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Big Bracket Nation

John Calipari has produced some of the best basketball prospects in recent history. This is the single-elimination tournament to determine his most outstanding player.

John Calipari hasn’t held an official position in the NBA since the turn of the century, but his fingerprints are all over the league as we know it. Coach Cal has only one NCAA title to his name, but in just nine seasons in Lexington, he’s turned the University of Kentucky into an assembly line for professional players — both in the NBA and in leagues across the globe. This week, we’re exploring Kentucky’s and Calipari’s impact on the basketball world, and whether or not his one-and-done blueprint has staying power at both the college and pro levels. Welcome to the Kentucky Basketball Association.


For all the wonder and exclamatory tweets that an Anthony Davis performance can elicit, an interview with the Unicorn That Was Promised is more like a Mark Price jumper: quick and to the point. I spent nearly two years peppering Davis with questions ranging from Donald Trump’s election to Langston Galloway’s impact on the second unit, and the 20-something All-Star rarely broke from his particular brand of monotone indifference. To say that Davis lets his play do the talking is an understatement.

Except when it comes to his alma mater. Bring up Kentucky or John Calipari or another Wildcats player talking too much shit for his own good and Davis’s eyes will grow wide like you just served up a wide-open alley-oop.

Davis is hardly unique among Coach Cal alumni in that regard. One of the rules of being a part of the exclusive one-and-done club appears to be that you have to talk, often, about the exclusive one-and-done club. Specifically, how your Kentucky team was better than the other eight that Calipari has stewarded since landing in Lexington in 2009. Even as the Wildcats entered the 2015 NCAA tournament undefeated, John Wall would hear none of it. “We were a better team,” Wall said.

But for all the five-star prospects that Calipari has graduated to the pros, his biggest accomplishment probably isn’t the NCAA title (in 2012), Final Four appearances (four with UK, six overall), or even the elite-level teams he puts out on the court (basically all of them). It’s the amount of players he’s gotten paid.

Scan any roster of the 30 NBA franchises and you’re likely to find a player hailing from the University of Kentucky. Twenty-seven former Wildcats currently dot lineups across the league—more than any other college in the country—and all but two of them are Calipari products. Another is on a two-way contract, a few more are in the G League, and more still can be found on teams around the globe.

So while former players may debate the hypothetical title-winner among their various draft classes, the better question might be: Who’s the best player Calipari ever produced?

To that end, we present you: Big Bracket Nation.

A few notes on the methodology on this very important thought exercise:

We’re including only players Calipari coached in college.

We named one of the regions in honor of Cal’s two-plus seasons as head coach of the New Jersey Nets, but he didn’t “recruit” those players, so they don’t count. Sorry, Kerry Kittles.

The Memphis and UMass years matter.

Calipari’s legend as Ace Recruiter truly took shape when he arrived in Lexington in 2009. For instance, of the 32 players that made the cut of the first round of our bracket, 26 (or 81 percent) are former Wildcats—including all four 1-seeds. But his past NCAA stops, at UMass (1988-96) and Memphis (2000-09), are still part of both his story, and thus the NCAA’s and NBA’s. Cal’s success with one-and-doners like Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans ultimately became the blueprint (or Blueprint, if you will) for the approach he would later master at Kentucky. And let’s be honest: If he hadn’t uprooted in 2009, while under the watchful eye of the NCAA’s G-Men, a lot of these players would have probably suited up in Memphis’s particular shade of blue. (DeMarcus Cousins, for instance, initially committed to the Tigers before following Calipari to UK.)

The full breakdown of alma maters is as follows:

Kentucky: Cousins (1), Davis (1), Karl-Anthony Towns (1), John Wall (1), Eric Bledsoe (2), Devin Booker (2), Jamal Murray (3), Julius Randle (3), De’Aaron Fox (3), Willie Cauley-Stein (4), Enes Kanter (4), Brandon Knight (4), Patrick Patterson (4), Bam Adebayo (5), Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (5), Trey Lyles (5), Nerlens Noel (5), Skal Labissiere (6), Malik Monk (6), Darius Miller (6), Tyler Ulis (6), Terrence Jones (7), DeAndre Liggins (7), Aaron and Andrew Harrison (7), Josh “Jorts” Harrellson (8), James Young (8)

Memphis: Rose (2), Evans (3), Chris Douglas-Roberts (7), Joey Dorsey (8), Dajuan Wagner (8)

UMass: Marcus Camby (2)

(Shouts to the pride of Hartford.)

No current Kentucky players.

Eligibility rules, y’know?

We’re factoring in the entire scope of a player’s career.

This is important. While Calipari had day-to-day oversight of the assembled field only in college—and in most cases, for one season of college—these players’ impact on the game goes wayyyyy beyond the Big Dance. A lot of these guys also became completely different players in the pros. Davis, for instance, had as many blocks as he did points in the 2012 national championship game but is now shooting 3s and putting up 40 points with regularity.

So, while we want you to include the quality and the quantity of a player’s contributions at both levels into your evaluations, we’re skewing more toward the consideration process for the Basketball Hall of Fame: College careers matter, but NBA careers matter more.

Aaron and Andrew Harrison count as one person.

Prove me wrong.

About the voting.

Each matchup in every round will be dictated by your votes. The polls will open—both here and on Twitter (@ringer)—around 9 a.m. ET every morning, and close around 11 p.m. ET each night for the next five nights. The first round kicks off on Monday (March 12), the second round is Tuesday, the Elite Eight is Wednesday, the Final Four is Thursday, and the grand finale is Friday. You get to vote only once, so make it count.

Without further ado, here are the first-round matchups:

Lexington Region

Poll

Which Coach Cal player should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 98%
    (1) Anthony Davis
    (16847 votes)
  • 1%
    (8) Joey Dorsey
    (177 votes)
17024 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Which Coach Cal player should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 66%
    (4) Brandon Knight
    (11039 votes)
  • 33%
    (5) Trey Lyles
    (5513 votes)
16552 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Which Coach Cal player should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 92%
    (3) Tyreke Evans
    (15409 votes)
  • 7%
    (6) Skal Labissiere
    (1232 votes)
16641 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Which Coach Cal player should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 91%
    (2) Marcus Camby
    (15093 votes)
  • 8%
    (7) Terrence Jones
    (1480 votes)
16573 votes total Vote Now

Memphis Region

Poll

Which Coach Cal player should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 96%
    (1) John Wall
    (16112 votes)
  • 3%
    (8) Dajuan Wagner
    (578 votes)
16690 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Which Coach Cal player should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 54%
    (4) Patrick Patterson
    (9011 votes)
  • 45%
    (5) Nerlens Noel
    (7559 votes)
16570 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Which Coach Cal player should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 76%
    (3) Jamal Murray
    (12555 votes)
  • 23%
    (6) Tyler Ulis
    (3862 votes)
16417 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Which Coach Cal player should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 93%
    (2) Derrick Rose
    (15571 votes)
  • 6%
    (7) Chris Douglas-Roberts
    (1016 votes)
16587 votes total Vote Now

Amherst Region

Poll

Which Coach Cal player should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 97%
    (1) DeMarcus Cousins
    (16061 votes)
  • 2%
    (8) Josh "Jorts" Harrellson
    (387 votes)
16448 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Which Coach Cal player should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 52%
    (4) Willie Cauley-Stein
    (8591 votes)
  • 47%
    (5) Bam Adebayo
    (7731 votes)
16322 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Which Coach Cal player should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 88%
    (3) Julius Randle
    (14426 votes)
  • 11%
    (6) Darius Miller
    (1841 votes)
16267 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Which Coach Cal player should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 96%
    (2) Eric Bledsoe
    (15628 votes)
  • 3%
    (7) DeAndre Liggins
    (584 votes)
16212 votes total Vote Now

East Rutherford Region

Poll

Which Coach Cal player should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 98%
    (1) Karl-Anthony Towns
    (16075 votes)
  • 1%
    (8) James Young
    (193 votes)
16268 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Which Coach Cal player should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 46%
    (4) Enes Kanter
    (7584 votes)
  • 53%
    (5) Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
    (8621 votes)
16205 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Which Coach Cal player should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 79%
    (3) De’Aaron Fox
    (12804 votes)
  • 20%
    (6) Malik Monk
    (3308 votes)
16112 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Which Coach Cal player should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 90%
    (2) Devin Booker
    (14754 votes)
  • 9%
    (7) Aaron & Andrew Harrison
    (1509 votes)
16263 votes total Vote Now